A decade of living the dream
Nov. 2, 2015
by Ivan Raconteur

One sign that you have been working at a place for a long time is when stories you have written while working there start appearing in the “Years Ago” column.

I recently celebrated my 10-year anniversary at the old HJ.

It has been a long, strange journey in many respects.

Milestones like this often invite introspection. As I contemplated the past decade over a beaker brimming with a refreshing adult beverage, I thought about some of the things I have seen and heard.

I have attended about 1,560 meetings of city councils, county boards, school boards, and planning commissions.

Some of these meetings have been relatively brief and organized. The other 1,500 have not.

The past decade has instilled in me a deep appreciation of a well-run meeting, and a dread of that other kind of meeting during which I can feel my life slipping away.

I have been somewhat surprised at how many people don’t know that public meetings are, well, open to the public. That’s kind of the point. A lot of people don’t seem to realize that public meetings are a forum in which they have an opportunity to address the council, ask questions, or simply observe the process.

On the other hand, there are also a number of people who seem to think that every public meeting is a chance for them to stick their oar in any time they feel like it, and interrupt the flow of the meeting.

Most public bodies welcome input from constituents, but it should be provided at the appropriate times and only when recognized by the chair.

Most meetings are intended for the government body to conduct its business. They are not intended as a free-for-all airing of grievances like Festivus.

Some meetings include public hearings, which have specific rules of their own. Everyone is given the opportunity to speak within the framework of the hearing.

In addition to meetings, I have read e-mail messages over the past 10 years. Lots of them.

At a conservative estimate, I figure I have read or forwarded about 56,000 e-mail messages over the past decade. It makes me tired to think of it.

There was a time when I believed e-mail would make our lives easier. In some ways it does, but it also provides a means by which every Larry, Curly, and Moe in the world can inundate us with data, much of it uninvited and unwelcome.

I appreciate pertinent, local information, but I have to weed through a lot of other material to get to the good stuff.

During my time at HJ, I have taken and processed thousands of photos.

Photographs are a great tool for studying human nature.

Some people absolutely hate to have their photo taken, while others can’t get enough of it. As an editor who needs to fill a newspaper with local content each week, I’m thankful for the people who don’t mind having their photos taken.

Finally, I have met a multitude of people during the past decade.

Journalism involves words and information, but it is a people business.

I don’t have a good way to measure this, and I surely don’t remember all their names – I have always been terrible with names – but I figure I’ve met hundreds of people.

I have interviewed many of these people, and encountered others only briefly on the way to meeting other people.

Most have been helpful, while others have not. Regardless of the circumstances, however, I have learned something from nearly all the people I encountered.

Whatever else it is, journalism is a life-long continuing education program. Anyone in the biz who is not learning something every day isn’t doing it right.

One of the humbling things about the newspaper business is that it teaches us how much we don’t know.

The job requires us to explain a wide variety of things to our readers.

One of the best ways to learn something is to explain it to someone else. This reveals any gaps in our education pretty quickly, and doing this every day forces us to get good at asking questions.

I have also had the opportunity to work with some brilliant people along the way.

People in the biz tend to be creative, hilarious, and tell good stories. For this reason, I spend a lot of my time laughing. I often forget this is work – at least until I get stuck in one of those meetings – the kind that seem to drag on 10 years in a single day.

The people I work with keep me relatively sane, and make it fun for me to come to the office.

We can be serious about the work we do without taking ourselves too seriously.

It is also my good fortune to still have contact with many former colleagues who have moved on to other situations.

It’s pleasant to hear about the adventures they have had since moving on down the road.

From time to time, we get together for a story and a libation, and I am reminded that life is short.

We spend a huge portion of our lives at work. It makes sense to work at something that gives us satisfaction and provides a laugh or two along the way.

For the past 10 years, I have been lucky enough to do just that.

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